Life at Deeves Hall soon began to take regular shape as we settled in. There was a permanent buzz in the air as we all sparked off one another, and a definite feeling that something (although we didn’t know what) was about to happen. Jon and I felt particularly at ease in the countryside, and would occasionally stroll down the lanes in search of a secluded spot where we would sit and smoke a cigarette whilst discussing our hopes for the new group. Ron Hire would frequently visit to replenish the large freezer that he had supplied, whilst Tony Edwards and John Coletta would drop by to show off their group to various friends and family members. Just outside the backdoor lay a large square shaped piece of wood which could be pulled back to reveal an extremely deep empty brick-lined well. Occasionally a lighted newspaper would be dropped in, as a party trick, taking so long to hit the bottom in a shower of sparks that it never failed to draw amazed gasps from our visitors!
Adjacent to the house was a huge barn in which I would garage the trusty Mk II Jaguar, alongside Bobby’s Citroen saloon car. We got to know the local woodcutter, Mr. Berridge, who lived near South Mimms. For ten shillings (fifty pence) he would deliver several hundred-weight of cut pine logs which made a wonderful smell as we burned them in the large open grate in the living room. Supplies of food and provisions could be bought at the nearby Shenley Stores, each of us shopping individually and cooking for ourselves. Jon was keen to keep ties with London, and so several times a week the pair of us would drive to the Speakeasy Club in Margaret Street, to hang out with fellow musicians and enjoy Jon’s favourite tipple of Scotch whisky and cola. One evening, as we prepared to leave for town, Jon almost leapt out of his skin with fright on finding a large bat hanging from his jacket. “Don’t panic Nick”, he shouted. Then I pointed out that it was dead, and confessed to putting it there as a joke. He wasn’t best pleased!
Soon the day came when our advertisement for a singer was published in the Melody Maker magazine, and all hell broke out as our telephone almost exploded! So many people applied to audition that we had to devise a system, giving a time two hours apart for each person to be at the local railway station, where I would pick them up and drive to Deeves Hall. The problem was that people arrived early, and I would be faced with two, three, sometimes four people at the station at once! The house was soon full of various hopefuls, all waiting their turn in the living room, whilst we ploughed through this endless queue of vocalists of varying ability, and I soon began to feel like a seasoned taxi driver!
The problem was that we did not know precisely what we were looking for, whilst the visiting singers had no idea what we wanted to hear. After several days of hearing dodgy versions of rock ‘n’ roll standards, we all began to feel extremely jaded, although there was the occasional bit of light relief, such as the bloke who bellowed a spirited rendition of “Won’t You Come Home Bill Bailey?”, whipping out a tuneless mouth organ in the middle, for a solo! It was during this period, when we were all starting to sag both physically and mentally, that we made a monumental blunder and passed up one of the best voices in rock.
My old mate Rod Freeman had recommended the vocalist that he worked with in the Ronnie Smith Band at Watford’s Top Rank ballroom, and sent him along to audition. I completely failed to recognise him as the same singer who had impressed me so much at the beginning of the decade, when I was still semi-professional. Ashley Holt suggested that he would sing a couple of Wilson Pickett songs, but one thing that Jon, Ritchie, Bobby and I were not into, was soul music! Sadly, and very unfairly to Ashley, we took little notice of his efforts and quickly moved on to the next singer, thus missing the opportunity to sign the man who was later to prove himself one of the greatest rock singers of all time! What an asset he would have been to the future Deep Purple!
After several days I wearily drove to the station once again, picking up three more singers to audition. During the return journey it became obvious that one person stood out as a bit of a character. He introduced himself as Rod Evans. It turned out that Ritchie had seen Rod sing with his group, The Maze, and had been impressed, so we gave Rod a bit of extra attention. As it turned out, the attention was warranted, because Rod was the only applicant who seemed to have ideas. He had worked out a new treatment of the Beatles song, ‘Help’, and so, after dismissing the others, we gathered around the organ whilst Jon helped to develop Rod’s unique treatment of the song.
This then was a pivotal moment in the short life of our group. Rod not only looked great, he sounded great, with a rich voice unlike any we had heard before, and we knew that we had found the right person for the job! By now it was getting late, and so it was decided that Rod would stay at Deeves Hall for the night. Ritchie and I, who shared a similar sense of humour, decided that this was a golden opportunity to play a joke on the newcomer. During our first few weeks in the house we had frequent visits from a firm who specialised in curing dry rot, and each room had samples removed, leaving a small hole in each wall, providing a marvellous opportunity for future practical jokes! The hole in the wall of our living room, where Rod was to spend the night, was conveniently hidden behind the piano, so black cotton was pushed through from the hall and tied to several cup handles which were placed on top of the piano. The windows were from floor to ceiling, with wooden shutters. The one beneath Ritchie’s bedroom had the metal security bar removed, thus allowing Ritchie to push it open from above, with a broom. When Rod heard the ‘news’ that a dangerous man was on the run from the local asylum, he insisted on arming himself with a hammer when he bedded down on the sofa for the night. The rest of us stayed awake until we could hear the sound of Rod snoring, and then, as I pulled the cups off the piano to smash in pieces on the floorboards, Ritchie leant out of his bedroom window to push the French window open. The trouble was that Ritchie was over-enthusiastic in his efforts and actually smashed the glass in the window!
Rod shot out of the door like a rocket, swinging wildly with his hammer in the darkness, pausing only when he heard the guffaws of laughter from the rest of us. He appeared so distraught with fear that we had to own up that it was all a gag. Rod wasn’t convinced though and insisted on dragging his blanket upstairs to make his bed in the bath, with the door firmly locked! Over breakfast the next morning, Rod saw the funny side and we all had a good laugh together, whilst confirming that we were offering him the job as vocalist, which he was more than happy to accept.
Later that day Rod left to return to his parents’ home at Slough where he packed his belongings in order to move to Deeves Hall. Jon, Ritchie and I were collectively pleased with our new member but Bobby didn’t seem keen at all. I had forged a close friendship with Bobby over the time we had lived together. He was a great raconteur, a really friendly man who was good company, and without doubt a great drummer with an awesome reputation, yet nothing we offered musically seemed to connect with him, and it seemed to all of us that our collaboration was never going to work. The beginning of a bad atmosphere was starting to permeate the house and I was at a complete loss as to what to do.
Unbeknown to me, Jon and Ritchie were worried enough to try and fix the situation, by bringing in a new drummer! Ritchie remembered that when he saw Rod Evans’ group, The Maze, they had a good drummer. A quick call to Rod led to him hurrying back to Deeves Hall with his drummer, a young man named Ian Paice. In what was to be the first of many future acts of skulduggery, Ian was brought to the house for a brief trial, whilst both Bobby and I were away on separate shopping expeditions. It was decided there and then that he was to be the new drummer. The only worry that they had was whether I would agree! The very next day I was given a mysterious message to be at Tony Edwards’ house in Barnes at 7:30 that evening.
At Tony’s home I found him sitting in the lounge with Jon, Rod, Richie and – Ian Paice! The atmosphere was very tense and doom-laden. Tony came straight to the point. He explained that the others wanted Ian in the band, but they were worried that I would leave if Bobby was sacked! They all cheered up when I told them that I agreed that the band would never work with Bobby, and I was happy to have Ian on board.
And so the line-up was now officially finalised, and the original Deep Purple had now begun.
The next day saw the atmosphere worsen, and Bobby confided in me that he was starting to smell a rat. I felt bad at this and told the others that we had to tell him collectively, or I would tell him myself. Panic now set in with Jon and Ritchie, and so Coletta and Edwards were summoned to give Bobby the news, which he took quite badly. I guess this was understandable as he had left Paris in order to join this new venture. The next day saw Bobby’s departure, and I must admit to some sadness at losing my new friend. Bobby shook my hand as he left and we resolved to stay in touch.
Our new member proved to be an excellent drummer and, unlike Bobby, was quite happy to play the ‘circus music’! Jon took me aside and said that Rod and Ian were so grateful to be in the band! I thought that we should be the grateful ones, for although Jon, Ritchie and I had built reputations based on our past successes, it was Rod and Ian’s fresh enthusiasm that gave us the impetus that we needed!
A new and even more exciting atmosphere pervaded Deeves Hall when the new members moved in, and one of the subjects frequently discussed was what we were to be called. We kicked all sorts of names about, some of which were seriously considered. Ritchie suggested ‘Deep Purple’, saying that it was his grandmother’s favourite song, but soon backed down following our collective howls of derision! After all, this 1930’s song, which had been revived in the early sixties, was just a crooner’s song, representing the exact opposite of the rock music that we wanted to play!
Tony Edwards especially liked the name Roundabout, or Magic Roundabout. He and Coletta had a friend in PR called Frances Baars who also backed the name, being very pop music minded. Her opinions had a big influence on Tony and John, and they could not understand why we all hated it so much.
As they days went by we came up with alternative names, but any that we seriously considered were always found to have been registered by another group! Until the right name came up, we just pushed on without one. After all, the lack of a name didn’t stop us rehearsing together, but as far as our management were concerned, we were Roundabout!
One sunny morning I found myself alone at Deeves Hall, as everyone else had gone out for the day for various different reasons. At the opposite end of the land surrounding the house was a small wooden cottage which had recently featured in the TV show “The Saint” starring Roger Moore, and so I spent half an hour looking around this little house which was used as a hayloft. As I returned I became aware of someone knocking on our front door, whilst a car and driver waited outside.
The visitor asked for Ritchie, introducing himself as Derek Lawrence, a record producer. I explained that Ritchie was gone for the day, but invited him for a cup of tea, which he gratefully accepted. Derek told me that he had heard about the new group, and was prepared to offer us a deal. He explained that through his connections with Feldman Music Publishers, he had been given the mandate to find a British group who were to be signed by a new American record company, with success guaranteed for the right outfit. Naturally, I was all ears! What Derek was proposing sounded extremely exciting, and we chatted for several hours before he had to leave. I promised to relay the details to the others on their return, and that we would contact him shortly.
Meanwhile, the offer from Mike Vernon was still being considered by HEC Enterprises, who had booked time in a London recording studio, although we had no finished material to record. As the day approached, it was decided to record the one completed tune we had, although no lyrics had been written for it. I suggested that we all sit down together and create a tune around a simple bass riff that I had been kicking around. It wasn’t the greatest tune, but between us all we quickly cobbled together a song entitled ‘Shadows’, with Rod writing the lyrics as the tune took shape. At least we had a finished effort to record, written in the nick of time, as HEC were determined that we would record something, whether ready or not!
Our new outfit assembled at Trident Studios rather nervously, for after all we had only been together for a matter of days. As we tuned our instruments, in walked Chris Curtis, boldly proclaiming that he was here as our producer. It appeared that this was to be his consolation prize from HEC for not being a member of the group! Ritchie immediately put down his guitar, announcing in that if Chris was producing, he would be doing it without Ritchie! An embarrassed Coletta and Edwards hurriedly led Chris out of the studio, and the embryonic Deep Purple got on with the business of laying the foundation of the group’s signature sound.
To be continued….